Here we are again, the dreaded December home-and-home with the Islanders. Not exactly an anniversary, because last year it was Dec. 16-17. But close enough.
You may recall last December, the Rangers’ fast start having evaporated into two months of mediocrity when the Islanders came to MSG and rocked the Rangers. The score was 2-1. The on-ice performance was much worse than that.
It began with John Tortorella’s infamous profanity-laced post-game tirade, and it continued with the benchings of Wade Redden and Ales Kotalik in the next game, on Long Island, and the demotion of Chris Drury to the fourth line, and the players meetings called by Henrik Lundqvist and Sean Avery, etc.
The Rangers went out and convincingly won the rematch at the Coliseum to start a 8-1-4 stretch in which they took 20 of a possible 26 points.
My point? Don’t let it get to the original crisis in the first place. The Rangers should already be annoyed, embarrassed and angered with the loss to the Isles earlier in the season (the Wisniewski game, remember?). They should need no further motivation than that, or than last year’s event.
The trouble is this — and we talked about this on a radio show I did last night — the Rangers don’t take the Rangers-Islanders rivarly nearly as seriously as the Islanders do. For them, it’s their Stanley Cup. For the Rangers it’s an aggravating game against a team that is guaranteed to be buzzing like agitated hornets.
The solution, as Lundqvist and others have mentioned throughout the years: Match their intensity. Because on nights when the opponent matches the Islanders’ intensity, they don’t normally win much. But if you’re going to sit by and let them dictate tempo and passion, you’re going down to the worst team in the league. Simple as that.
Or you can come out with a first-game loss and then hope that’s enough motivation for Game 2. I don’t imagine that’s Tortorella’s first choice.